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Sans Abri

One offers, the other demands.

One smiles, the other grimaces.

One is silent, the other assaults your ears.

One of them has created a tableau for your viewing pleasure, the other borrows red and gold roosters and pokes them to perform until she tires of caring for them a few days later.

I stop to look at the assemblage he has fashioned on the sidewalk.

Très créatif, I say, très surréaliste.

He smiles shyly, extends his paper cup.

I usually carry change in my pockets for the homeless. But I've just spent the last coin. I walk on, inspect the office chairs in a shop window. The least costs thirty times the amount that would buy him a meal.

I return, ask him permission to photograph his creation. His eyes shine, yes.

Et vous aussi?

He nods yes.

I put a five Euro bill in his cup, enough for dinner.

He asks me where I’m from.

Les États-Unis, I say. Mais je vis ici maintenant.

I’d like to ask him where he is from, how did he come to Paris, did he fight in a war? but he barely speaks French. I settle for, Et vous?

Bulgarie, he says.

His head is covered in flowers instead of hair, his face round with a silver beard, he might be in his 60s. You can see his spirit shine in his creation, you can see it in his eyes.


Photo: Kaaren Kitchell

     *     *     *     *     *

I never give her money. I can’t. She is so aggressive it hurts to pass her on Blvd. Saint-Germain. She sits on the sidewalk, skirts puddled around her, yelling at everyone who passes.

Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Monsieur! As people approach, her voice rises in volume.

Most people ignore her. She cuts their backs with her sarcastic Bravo, Madame! Bravo, Monsieur!

She is full of energy, a manipulative actress. Swift changes pass over her face like clouds across an orangey moon—hopeful, self-pitying, grotesque, furious, bitter.

I fantasize saying gently to her, If you want to receive more money, try being less aggressive. But I’ve learned from experience that it’s a mistake to speak frankly with narcissists. They are only interested in looking into their own mirrors. No light comes from her. She doesn’t care if your arms are loaded high with fruit and dry cleaning. Doesn’t notice if you are deep in conversation with someone else. She is pure “Moi! Moi! Moi!”

Very few people stop.





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Reader Comments (25)

I guess when one has lost everything, the only thing left is "moi." What a terrible predicament to be in.

Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 22:18 | Unregistered CommenterStuart Balcomb

Love the doll in communion white, juxtaposed with the cross, juxtaposed with the pinup in the bikini. And what's that, "Le Cid"?

A narcissist sharing floor space with an artist. Sidewalk life imitating life.

Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 22:28 | Unregistered CommenterAnna


You are bringing up the very thing that inspired the post, but I come to another conclusion. There are people who are "moi, moi, moi" when they have everything. The same people are "moi, moi, moi" when they lose it. Others are creative and sensitive to other people when they have everything, as well as when they lose it. The Bulgarian man is older by some 25 years and is much more physically handicapped than the woman. But even missing a leg, confined to a wheelchair, poor, and in his 60s, his attitude attracts giving. There are many people in Paris who want to give money to the homeless. The woman drives them away, drives everyone crazy. But is not crazy herself, just manipulative and demanding. It is striking to me how the laws of human exchange exist in even the most dire of circumstances. Bad attitude=bad outcome. People just don't feel like giving when the askers are rude.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 22:53 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


You got it! Yes, I do believe that's Le Cid. One needs a hero around to survive sidewalk life.

My favorite is the pink pony--on top of the blonde's head.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 23:11 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Kaaren and Richard....I just LOVE this post! Brilliant as always but with such a poignant touch. Will print this and last post for Betty
once my ink cartridges are once again robust. Bravo!! Merci!!!

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 0:44 | Unregistered CommenterSuki

Dear Suki,

Thank you! If only we were saints, we'd give this woman a donation, too. But we're not.

We're grateful to you for printing the posts for Betty. And for you.

Big kisses,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 2:00 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

after a weekend of radical simplicity, i would reflect upon the bhramavijara of equanimity...
you do more for others than most. we all do what we can.

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 3:07 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Lesniak

Beautiful as always, Kaaren & Richard. I ached for you to know more about this man (and to be able to exchange stories more easily).

I love the language and explanation of the narcissist, and the image that follows it.

...and of course I liked the pink My Little Pony on the blonde ( ; . I recently learned that each MLP character has a symbol on its hip that indicates its talent / character. I wondered which pony that one was, but the symbol-stamped hip must be facing the other way. Anyway, trivia from a mother of a preschooler.

Thank you for sharing -- I feel like I'm soaking up a little bit of Paris each time.


Monday, May 21, 2012 at 6:46 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer genest


Good Cheer came and
sat among the cynics

“What evidence do you have?” they asked
putting on snarl cougar masks and

long piggy moose faces

“None that you can see” sang Good Cheer
“though it land on you like a piano”

They sat still as a piano landed on them
proof of their position

even though it was playing a
gorgeous new sonata

“That darkness we see
lays on us like gabardine” they chanted


“The darkness you see is only
a play of light” sang back Glee

There’s no end to this drama and the
back and forth between them

and the cynics have convincing
evidence on their side it’s true

but when the dust clears
do you see ruins or new shapes

and can anything God brings be

Even though the angels who bring things
look like they’ve been stung by wasps and

beaten by psychopaths?

Conceive of a world
through this one

better than this one

Live in it

Stretch out your hand

and decorate it with
fairy lights

for all our own and
your own

5/11/12 (from Down at the Deep End, in progress)

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 7:01 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Ahhh, life here on the physical plane. Its pleasures perhaps sustain the little flower headed man. His mind is not shattered. He sees beauty in his surroundings and creates it with color, dolls, babes and flowers. Even his wheel chair cans are colorful…he is colorful. His smile reflects his interior. He has loved. — It’s easy to give to him. For him I hold empathy and compassion.

And the tortures... be they from this life, a fallen grace, an abusive childhood leading to fear and distrust or, seeing something horrific that tears the psyche to pieces? Is it years living in the gutters with no place to sleep.. or pee that destroys the balance? Or is “she” paying for a wrong doing and damnation from another time? Surely, whatever the reason, she’s living in a hell in her delusional state (which sounds “crazy” to me)… nothing rational can penetrate that desperation. It’s always harder to give to someone filled with hatred, the energy pushes us from it. For her I feel sorrow, sadness and compassion.

What a tenuous state we all live in. One hopes it can be filled with some kind of grace and, that we recognize it when it is present. How blessed we all are.

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 7:04 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne


When I got on the crowded Metro there was one
double seat empty because a woman was sitting in
one of them everyone seemed to be avoiding and when I
glanced at her so did I

She had long ratty black hair with a few gray
streaks in it and was leaning forward erect
rubbing her forehead

I moved to the side next to it and
decided to sit on the vacant seat across from her
anyway since she at least didn’t seem dangerous she wasn’t
mumbling or raving she was just Les Miserables

She had a loose knit gray sweater on and long
black skirt and a broken gray
leatherette bag she had plonked down on
the seat next to her

Her forehead had bloody scabs she seemed to be
picking with dirty fingernails and she
reeked that reek of sleeping in her
clothes and radically needing a bath

But her face was somehow elegant
almost masculine
black eyes that looked around but didn’t seem to look at
anything but their own blackness
a long aquiline nose and lips pursed tight so
used to suppressing complaint or perhaps to
loudly proclaiming it in her agonies of solitude because she
seemed in an agony of solitude even here on the
crowded Metro

having effectively held everyone around her at
bay by her stench and her reaching into her
sweater endlessly to scratch and search the empty air
with her blank black eyes for some relief

I wondered to myself if I could manage to
give her some money
so reached into my pocket under my overcoat and took out
my coin purse and counted out five Euros
and imagined various scenarios of putting out my
hand just before getting off so she wouldn’t have to
thank me for it or elaborately reject it or
even in one violent scenario suddenly break her
purse-lipped silence and scream obscenities at me for
daring to give her charity
throwing the coins at me in this crowded train car

But finally before nearing my stop by one or two
stops I asked her if she would accept some
money from me and her face suddenly
focused on mine for a moment in silence so I
added “to get something to eat”
and she said simply but somehow nobly
“I’ve already had breakfast”

and just as quickly went back to her sad preoccupations
though when I got up to leave and said
“au revoir” she faintly and tragically
smiled at me and there was a small

but a very small
understanding between us
from Through Rose Colored Glasses, written in Paris, December, 2002

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 18:22 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Hi Lisa,

I'm not so sure that I do. Sometimes you want to do more, you feel compassion for someone, but there's something in the way of your giving. I keep waiting to feel an opening in me, of being moved to give something to this woman whom I pass nearly every day. It hasn't happened yet. I wonder if it will.

Your weekend of radical simplicity sounds wonderful.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 19:48 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you. I love your detail about My Little Ponies. What a great thing to give to children, suggesting that they, like the pink ponies, have a gift stamped on their hips. Children must wonder, What is my gift? I will definitely check that pony's hip the next time I see him. I wonder if I could manage to communicate this detail to him in our mutually imperfect French?

This way of soaking up Paris will have to do till you get here.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 19:54 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Daniel,

"Good cheer among the Cynics" is full of insight and delight. You are so right that whatever dark drama people claim is "reality" is in fact what they create out of their own imaginations. So the Cynic is right and so is Good Cheer.

Is "fairly" the word you meant, or is that a typo?

Cheers! and love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 20:02 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


This is such a vivid tale. You take us there.

It reminds me of the only time I've offered money to a man on Blvd. St. Germain who wasn't clearly asking for it. He was not that old, maybe in his early 60s, but a long gray beard and a back bent nearly horizontal made him look ancient. His clothes were tattered but clean. He slowly made his way across a side street, and I held out some money to him. He looked up at me, shocked, and I realized I'd made a huge faux pas. He wasn't starving, he was just physically impaired. I vowed never to risk insulting someone this way again.

Thank you for sharing your closely observed (and sung) experiences.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 20:52 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Joanne,

How strange. I just wrote a long message to you and it disappeared. To recap: a beautiful, compassionate message from you. I've also wondered about this woman's past, what happened to her in earlier life, where does she go at night, has she ever tried another approach, another tone?

I keep waiting to find some opening in her shower of aggression, some opening in me that would allow deeper compassion, but It hasn't happened yet.

The grace and blessing of being alive: c'est ca!

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 21:04 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

You're right! It's meant to be (believe it or not) "fairy lights"... And why not! Thanks... and aw, your site is just a sight for sore eyes and hearts... always. And illustrated with such finesse with les fotos de l'epouse brilliant! I'm much obliged by your correcting it... merci.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 0:21 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

“None that you an see”

for all our own and
for your own
Dearest Kaaren:
This is terribly embarrassing... but could you correct that line to read "None that you can see" with a "can" instead of an "an"... and would it be possible to change the penultimate stanza to read:
"for all our own and
your own"
taking out that last "for". I think it reads better... I'm sorry to be so clumsy... How many times did I read it too!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:04 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Hi Daniel,

Almost everyone, including us, makes typos and spelling errors and would like to edit further after a post. We usually catch the typos before posting them, but not always. This is just to let you and everyone else know that we don't mind editing even weeks after posting.

I made the other changes, too, and agree with you that the last tweak improves the original. We're all rewriting continually, aren't we?

Thank you for the appreciation, the poems and Richard thanks you too!

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:39 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Kaaren & Richard,

What an interesting contrast between these two souls (and I very much appreciate the wisdom and compassion of the responses here, too). This is such a good reminder that homeless people are *people*... very much individuals with vastly differing temperaments and outlooks.

(And I, too, love that pink pony... there is something sublimely weird and hopeful about it.)

Thank you for sharing yet another look at Paris as you experience it...


Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 8:44 | Unregistered Commenterdawna

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